Last week, head coach Tom Williams called the state of his special teams a crisis. This week, he handed his field goal unit the ball with three seconds left in a tie game between Yale and Dartmouth.
Kicker Phillipe Panico ’13, who had missed the first two field goal attempts of his collegiate career earlier in the game, rose to the challenge—but just barely. Panico bounced a 19-yard kick off the right upright and through as time expired to give the Bulldogs (3-1, 2-0 Ivy) a 23-20 victory in Hanover, NH. It wasYale’seighth straight victory against the Big Green (2-2, 0-2).
Cornerback Chris Stanley ’11 made Yale’s last drive possible when he stripped the ball from star Dartmouth running back Nick Schweiger with only 1:06 left in the game.
“I saw [Schweiger] hanging the ball out on the outside,” said Stanley. “It was just open for an opportunity, and once I saw that I knew I wasn’t going to go for the tackle and I was going to go for the ball.”
That was only one of two crucial takeaways Stanley registered in the fourth quarter. Earlier in the frame, with Yale leading 20-13, he wrestled a pass away from Dartmouth receiver Michael Reilly — who had already burned the Bulldogs for over 100 yards receiving — in the endzone for the first interception of his collegiate career.
“The mantra on the defense is that the number one thing is to get the ball back,” said Stanley. “There couldn’t have been a better time in the game to do that. The ball was up in the air, the wide receiver made a good play on it, but I just made a better play.”
But Dartmouth didn’t give up after Stanley’s takeaway. Consecutive holding penalties on the ensuing drive forced Yale to punt from its own 7-yard line on 4th and 23. Dartmouth returner Shawn Abuhoff caught the kick in full stride and raced untouched to the left side of the endzone. Dartmouth’s Foley Schmidt converted the extra point to knot the game at 20.
“[Alex Barnes ’11] gave me a real short kick, so I had the chance to make a play of it,” Abuhoff said. “A few guys held on to their blocks and then it was off to the races.”
The holding penalties against Yale that set the stage for Abuhoff’s return were a sign of the inexperience on Yale’s offensive line. Center Jake Koury ’11 had to sit out after injuring his knee last week, and left tackle Alex Golubiewski ’11 was stuck taking the LSAT.
With both of the offensive line’s seniors missing, Williams had to do some creative shuffling. Jeff Fell ’12 took over at center, Wes Gavin ’13 moved from right tackle to left, and Roy Collins ’13 filled in on the right side in his first collegiate start.
“Jeff Fell really stepped up this week and was right on with every single call,” said fullback Shane Bannon ’11, who had a career-high six catches, including one for a touchdown. “With Roy Collins and Wes Gavin I thought it was going to be a little bit of a struggle, but it wasn’t at all. They both did exactly what they needed to do all day.”
Although the shuffled line managed to keep Dartmouth from registering a sack, they owed that statistic mostly to the cool hand of quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 in the pocket. Witt found nine receivers in the game and went 28 of 37 for 238 yards, a touchdown, and an interception despite taking numerous hits as he threw the ball.
“I give it up to the guy,” said Dartmouth tackle Eddie Smith. “I laid a few hits on him, but he’s a solid quarterback and he kept throwing the ball.”
No such throw was more important than a 28-yard completion to Jordan Forney — who saw little playing time because of an injury that limited him in practice this week — with under a minute to go in the fourth quarter.
Stanley’s strip had just given Yale the ball on the Dartmouth 47 with 1:06 left in the game. Yale drove 12 yards on two quick plays, but needed to move more quickly if it was to have a hope of scoring. Panico — who took over placekicking duties when Williams reopened competition for the spot after last week’s struggles — had already missed field goal attempts of 53 and 45 yards. The Bulldogs needed either a touchdown or a very short field goal kick if they were to have a chance of sealing the game.
Witt brought them close when he found Forney on the left sideline.
“I just had barely enough time to get the pass off,” Witt said. “Then I heard cheers from our side of the stands and I know he must have made the catch.”
The Yale offense did not look like it would need such late game heroics when it drove 80 yards for a touchdown on its first possession of the game. Running back Alex Thomas — who saw little daylight in last week’s loss to Albany — looked to have regained full form when he rushed 4 times for 26 yards on the drive, including a 13-yard touchdown scamper.
But Thomas fell awkwardly onto the football late in the first half and saw only limited action afterward.
The Bulldogs didn’t miss a beat. Mordecai Cargill ’13, who missed last week with an injury, rushed 18 times for 127 yards, although he was hit hard in the game and twice had to be helped off the field. It was the first 100-yard game of Cargill’s career.
“Last week I had to sit out and it was hard for me to stand on the sidelines and see my teammates give their all and still come up a little short,” Cargill said. “As I was coming off the field I vowed to myself that if I could walk I was going to play.”
Even when Cargill did have to sit out a series of downs, the Yale rushing attack kept going. Javi Sosa ’13 scored a 7-yard touchdown in the third quarter on his second ever collegiate carry to give Yale a 20-13 lead.
“The fact that two of our best players on the field go down and then we still have two guys who can step up and take snaps, it just works out great,” Bannon said.
Rushing defined the game on the defensive side of the ball as well. Schweiger entered the contest averaging an Ivy League best 144 yards per game, while Yale’s rushing defense also led the Ivy League. The Bulldogs, led by captain Tom McCarthy ’11 — making his first appearance after an injury against Georgetown — bent but did not break. Schweiger managed 128 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries.
“[McCarthy’s] just such a strong presence on the defense,” Stanley said. “When you have him on there it’s a confidence booster. He helps the defense improve upon every aspect of the game because you know he’s going to stop the run, you know he’s going to have a pass rush.”
Yale plays Fordham (2-4, 0-1 Patriot League) next week at the Yale Bowl. Though they can celebrate this week’s win, they will head into this week of practice aware that they have not solved their problems on special teams. Had Panico’s first extra point attempt not been blocked, his last second heroics perhaps would not have been necessary.
After Witt’s game-winning quarterback sneak against Georgetown, Saturday was the second time that Yale has won a game as the clock expired.
“I love winning but I may die from stroke or something if that happens again,” said Bannon. “The blood pressure is just going to explode my veins.”